The IoT market is in full bloom, with wearables, home appliances and healthcare gadgets revolutionizing the way we work, live and play. However, not all IoT devices are created equally, nor do they communicate the same way. For instance, smart sensors embedded in industrial IoT infrastructures have different network requirements than consumer-grade IoT devices.
To solve this problem, LoRa Alliance, the NGO promoting standardization of low-power WANs for IoT, has created LoRaWAN™, “as the open global standard for secure, carrier-grade IoT LPWA connectivity”.
LoRaWAN is an open-source protocol designed for wide area networks. It allows low-powered connected objects to communicate wirelessly over long distances.
At the core of IoT is its ingenious structure of communication protocols, enabled by connectivity, with an abstract architecture that is composed from both hardware and software systems. This is how a smart environment is created, connecting and embedding smart components. Systems sensors can collect a valuable database in any field of human activity. We use the devices to enable our lives and work through Internet. IoT is their means of communication to each other and getting back to us, with essential information that can make a real difference in the decision making process. Real-time information and having control over things from a distance allows us to create the world and the business we aim for.
More specifically, LoRaWAN and LoRa (the physical layer enabling LoRanWAN's system architecture) enable low-capacity IoT objects to transmit data over a life span of years and within tens of kilometers, proving themselves ideal for smart city M2M applications such as smart parking or smart waste management, as well as industrial applications.
The protocol’s main benefits are:
- Low-power consumption
- Low implementation difficulty
- Low costs
- High scalability
LoRaWAN in a nutshell
LoRaWAN has a ‘star-of-stars’ topology - the network infrastructure is comprised of a cloud-based LoRaWAN network server that speaks to multiple end nodes through gateways. A single LoRa gateway device can carry up to 1000 end-devices or nodes.
Communication between end-devices and gateways is natively asymmetric and bi-directional, and is spread out on different frequency channels and data rates. But more importantly, communication is secured via built-in end-to-end encryption.
Due to its possible applicability in critical infrastructures, but also because sensors may be remotely deployed for long periods of time, the LoRaWAN network is secured end-to-end with several layers of encryption:
- Unique Network key (EUI64) to ensure security at the network level
- Unique Application key (EUI64) for security at the application level
- Device specific key (EUI128)
The protocol uses AES1 cryptographic algorithms; each LoRaWAN device comes with a unique 128-bit AES key (called the AppKey) and a globally unique identifier (EUI-64-based DevEUI), both used during the device authentication process.
Traffic between end-devices and application servers is encrypted using two session keys generated from the pre-provisioned AppKey. One verifies packet authenticity and integrity (the NwkSKey) and the other encrypts and decrypts the application payload (the AppSKey). Both keys are AES-128 root keys specific to the end-device and are assigned by device manufacturers or the application owner.
Additional replay and integrity protection mechanisms (CMAC) ensure that network traffic has not been tampered with and no unauthorized parties have access to it.
LoRaWAN is one of the few IoT networks displaying end-to-end encryption. In some traditional cellular networks, traffic is not fully ciphered and may be travelling in plain text to the operator’s network. This means end users need to deploy an additional security solution such as a VPN or TLS security, adding extra costs, complexity and power consumption.
In LoRaWAN, HTTPS and VPN technologies have been built-in to secure backend communication. Simfony’s LoRaWAN Cloud Service connects LoRa gateways to Simfony’s LoRaWan cloud infrastructure using secure mobile data connections or the existing internet provider.
Last, but not least, physical security of the devices needs to be taken into account. With LoRaWAN, if the device risks physical harm, the AppKey and the derived session keys can be stored in a tamper resistant storage, known as the Secure Element.
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